Unclaimed Money: IRS Has $1B for Late 2008 Filers

PHOTO: Blank Federal tax return checks are loaded into a printer to be completed at the United States Department of Treasury Financial Management Services, Philadelphia Financial Center, in Philadelphia, PA in this March 12, 2004 file photo.
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Time is ticking -- and money could be waiting -- for those who have yet to file their 2008 federal tax returns. Half of those nonfilers could be due refunds of $637 each -- their share of the more than $1 billion the Internal Revenue has in unclaimed refund money for that year.

The IRS said the deadline for those who want to file and collect their 2008 refunds is April 17, 2012.

The IRS reminds taxpayers seeking a refund for 2008 that their checks might be held if they didn't file tax returns for 2009 and 2010. The 2008 refund would be applied to any amounts still owed, and to unpaid child support or past due federal debts, such as student loans. There is no penalty for filing a late return that qualifies for a refund.

The law provides most taxpayers with a three-year window to claim a refund, and after that the money becomes property of the U.S. Treasury. The IRS said some people may not have filed because they had too little income to require filing a tax return, even though taxes were withheld from their wages.

The IRS website lists the refund potential and refund median amounts state by state for 2008. Wyoming taxpayers, who did not file, for example, have the highest median potential refund, of $773. Those in Oregon have the lowest, at $527 per person.

Here are the IRS' tips to help you file that late federal tax return for 2008:

1. Current and previous year tax forms and instructions are available on the Forms and Publications page of IRS.gov, or by calling toll-free 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

2. The IRS advises taxpayers who are missing Forms W-2, 1098, 1099 or 5498 for 2008, 2009 or 2010 to request copies from their employer, bank or other payer.

3. If these efforts prove unsuccessful, taxpayers can get a free transcript showing information from these year-end documents by ordering it on IRS.gov, filing Form 4506-T, or by calling 800-908-9946.

4. The IRS offers free tax help through its Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and the Tax Counseling for the Elderly, or TCE, programs for low- and moderate-income taxpayers, senior citizens, people with disabilities and non-English-language speakers. The general rule of thumb is individuals can't make more than $50,000 a year.

5. Make sure your return is mailed and postmarked by April 17, 2012, and has the correct address.

In November, the IRS said it was searching for almost 100,000 taxpayers to deliver $153.3 million in unclaimed tax refund checks because of mailing address errors.

Timothy Flacke, executive director of the nonprofit D2D Fund, which supports the Tax Time Savings Bond Campaign, said it was likely a large number of the 99,123 taxpayers who are missing their tax refunds are more financially vulnerable than others. They're either "unbanked," meaning they don't have a bank account, or "underbanked," meaning they rely on alternative financial institutions, such as check cashing services, for their banking needs.

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